Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Force Multiplier for The Indian Naval Capability

Radhakrishna Rao
Research Fellow, VIF

In a major technological breakthrough for the Defence Research and Development Organisation(DRDO) and a significant boost to the strike capability of the Indian Navy, the naval variant of India’s home grown fourth generation fighter aircraft Tejas LCA had its successful debut flight on April 27.

The 20-minute long maiden flight Tejas naval at Bangalore has been described as “outstanding success” by the DRDO chief V.K.Saraswat. As envisaged now, the two seater Tejas naval is expected to get Initial Operational Clearance(IOC) by the middle of this decade. According to DRDO, Tejas naval has catapulted India into the elite league of countries capable of design, development and production of four plus generation carrier borne fly by wire fighter. Indeed, the design and development of the Tejas naval involved many formidable technological challenges since it was required to operate under saline and humid environment with restricted availability of deck run for launch and recovery of high operating load conditions. Many new and novel technologies including Leading Edge Vortex Control(LEVCON) surface fitted at the front end of the aircraft wing operated by a concealed rotary actuator with aerodynamic profiling to ensure low landing speed, ground controllability and better vision for the pilot were developed for the first time in the country.

Moreover, Tejas naval has the distinction of being the only carrier borne fighter aircraft in the light category and the second STOBAR (Ski Take off but Arrested Recovery) carrier borne aircraft in the world. Not surprisingly then DRDO points out that Tejas naval fighter will provide a complete marine force multiplier that will help the Indian Navy to position itself as a blue water, maritime force. In yet another boost to the Indian Navy, Defence Minister A.K.Antony informed the Parliament that an exclusive naval satellite for dedicated communications will be launched during 2012-13. The GSAT-7 satellite which will be launched by means of the three stage Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle(GSLV) will help Indian Navy provide secure and reliable communications channel to link up its “resources and assets” for an integrated operational strategy.

On another front, the induction of the nuclear powered Nerpa class submarine Chakra that Indian Navy has taken on lease from Russia is also expected to enhance the fighting fitness of the Indian Navy. With INS Chakra in operational trim, India has become the sixth country in the world to operate a nuclear submarine. The submarine, considered one of the stealthiest and deadliest in the world, can carry four 533-mm torpedoes and four 650-mm torpedoes. Defence analysts say that with a diving speed of 30-35 knots, INS Chakra will be able to outrun any Chinese or Pakistani submarine.
In a related development, with Russia planning to hand over 45,000 tonne class augmented aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya with forty years of service life to the Indian navy by 2012 end, the sixty years old Indian navy, the youngest of the three services, can look forward to boost its strike capability . There is no denying the fact that aircraft carriers hold a key to expand the reach and boost the strike capability of a naval force. Indeed, early this year Admiral Nirmal Verma, Chief of the Indian Navy, had stressed on the importance of an aircraft carrier in augmenting the capability of the navy to take care of the Indian interests in the Indian ocean area and beyond.

“Carrier building is very expensive but it is certainly there in our long term plans,” observed Verma. Giving an inkling into the futuristic aircraft carrier that the Indian Navy is keen on operating, Verma pointed out that the navy was firming up the design of a future aircraft carrier by taking into account the emerging advances in the field of aviation and the potentials of unmanned aerial vehicles(UAVs) in the scheme of the naval warfare. “There would be far more capable aircraft and far more expected of an aircraft carrier by the late 2020,” observed Verma. As envisaged now, Indian Navy is keen on operating three aircraft carriers by the end of this decade. The idea is that at any given time, two aircraft carriers should be in full operational trim.

As part of the growth strategy of Indian Navy, Verma has also hinted at deploying UAVs(Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) on INS Vikramaditya sometime in the future. Currently, the INS Viraat, whose refurbishment has resulted in its life being extended upto 2015, is the only aircraft carrier in service with the Indian Navy. And India’s 40,000-tonne home-grown aircraft carrier being built by the Cochin shipyard at Kochi in South India is expected to join the Indian naval fleet by the middle of this decade. Indian navy has also a clear cut plan for a vastly improved second generation indigenous aircraft carrier for deployment by 2018.

Though youngest of the three services, the Indian Navy has been ahead of two other wings in getting its requirements met from the indigenous sources to the maximum extent possible . Indeed, Indian Navy continues to play a pro active role in encouraging the shipyards and industries in the country to take up the development of complex systems involving advanced technological elements. As it is, the allegation of kickbacks associated with German HDW submarine deal in early 1990s had seriously dented Navy’s modernisation plan with a large indigenous contribution. Like the spectre of Bofors which continues to haunt Indian army’s artillery modernization programme, the HDW scandal did seriously sap Indian navy’s combat readiness plan for many years. “After the lost decades, we are now able to place orders and acquisitions are happening; only that our ship yards are unable to deliver at globally competitive rates. But notwithstanding that in the next five years, we would be commissioning on an average five ships or submarines a year,” noted Verma. According to Verma, today Indian Navy is poised for a very good growth path.

In a development of significance to meeting the needs of the Indian Navy, private shipyards such as Pipavav, ABG and Larsen and Toubro(L&T) have invested heavily in technology up-gradation and are more than willing to take up the challenge of building advanced ships, submarines and other systems for the Indian navy. While L&T has made a significant contribution to the construction of India’s first home grown nuclear submarine INS Arihant, Pipavav shipyard, rated as the country’s best shipyard, is building six offshore patrol vessels for the Indian Navy. The state owned Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers(GRSE), which has on hand order for building six fast attack craft, has delivered first of the craft well before the deadline, thereby signalling the maturity of the Indian ship building industry. To meet the growing and diverse needs of the Indian Navy, the Ministry of Defence has cleared the participation of private shipyards in the bids along with the public sector shipyards. Mazagaon Dock which is now building three advanced Delhi class destroyers, three Shivalik class stealth frigates and six Scorpene submarines, is focussing on the modular ship design, which is one of the components of the programme for the up-gradation and modernization of shipyards in the country.

In another development of significance, the Ministry of Defence has taken over the Hindustan Shipyard from the Ministry of Shipping with a view to transform it into a hub of nuclear powered submarines. However, the lack of proper ground work and foresight resulted in Government being forced to withhold the joint venture plan between Mazagaon Dock and Pipavav shipyard. Certainly, this would have been a win-win combination, making for a formidable technological base to take up the challenging assignments from the Indian navy. Pipavav is considered one of the most sophisticated shipyards with the largest dry dock in the world and as such has a potential to contribute to self reliance in a big way.

Indian Navy is also working towards boosting its aviation assets aimed at positioning itself as a formidable maritime force. It has already ordered 49 deck based Mig-29K combat aircraft from Russia .Some of the aircraft that navy is planning to acquire in the near future will be designed to operate in the contemporary and futuristic electronic warfare environment with cutting edge technological features. Similarly, Indian Navy is looking at acquiring a range of state of the art helicopters to realize its long term strategic goals. Indeed the plan to acquire six P-81 Boeing long range maritime surveillance aircraft is quite relevant and timely to enhance Indian Navy’s situational awareness domain in the Indian ocean region where the menace of sea pirates has assumed a serious dimension. When Boeing hands over the first P-81 sometime next year, India will become the first non-US operator of this aircraft that will ultimately replace Soviet vintage Tupolev-142 M and Illyushin-38 long range patrol aircraft. Indian navy is also interested in acquiring four more of P-81.

In the ultimate analysis, the accretion plan of the Indian Navy, the forth largest maritime force in the world, looks at operating 150 plus warship of various categories and 500 aircraft including fighter jets, helicopters and maritime reconnaissance aircraft by 2027. Indian Navy’s strike capability will stands enhanced by a substantial extent when Long Range Surface to Air Missile(LRSAM), a guided weapon that the state owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is building in tie up with Israel Air Force Industries(IAI) gets ready for operational use. With a range of 70-km and weighing around 275-kg, the LRSAM with a high performance guidance system will be a force multiplier and game changer for the Indian navy. The trump card of the Indian Navy is the Indo-Russian supersonic cruise missile BrahMos which has already been inducted into some of its warships. The 290-km range BrahMos with a phenomenal destructive power has been described as the “most powerful and most formidable ”naval missile of its kind.

In a related development, Arihant is now poised for extensive sea trials as a prelude to make it fully operational by early 2013. Incidentally, over 6,000-tonne Arihant equipped with a dozen K-15 ballistic missiles will constitute the robust undersea leg of the Indian nuclear triad. As India has a policy of no “first use” of nuclear weapons, survivable retaliatory strike capability is dependent on the this nuclear powered submarine .

Chakra in tandem with Arihant will give Indian Navy a greater manoeuvrability to hoodwink the enemy’s surveillance system and strike hard as they can remain submerged indefinitely . Meanwhile Pakistan, which is, trying to match the Indian Naval capability has said it will build nuclear submarine to meet its defence requirements. “The nuclear submarine would be built in the country” said a government official and added “it would take 5 to 8 years to build the nuclear submarine after which Pakistan would join the list of countries that have a nuclear submarine.”

With China rapidly expanding its naval capability to realize its long standing ambition of challenging the might of American naval fleets moving across the high seas of the world, Indian navy is not willing to be left behind in the race to take care of the Indian interests across the vital global sea lanes. For realizing this vision, Indian Navy would need to strengthen its submarine fleet by a substantial extent. However, right at the moment the submarine asset of the Indian navy, leaves much to be desired. According to India’s public audit watch dog Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), navy’s submarine fleet is aging fast and by 2012, 63 percent of the vessels would have completed their operational life. The Navy which currently operates just 14 submarines has a submarine strength much below the envisaged force level. All the six Scorpene submarines being built with French assistance at the Mumbai based Mazagaon Dock under Project75 will be delivered between 2015 and 2018. The Scorpene production programme has been marred by delays and cost overruns. Indian Navy is also planning for a new production line of the next generation diesel electric submarine with Russian technology. This project has been cleared by the Defence Ministry.

The Indian Navy is fully well aware of the implications of the rights secured by China’s Ocean Mineral Research and Development Association(COMRA)from the International Seabed Authority for exploring poly-metallic nodules in the Indian ocean region. Indeed, this could serve as a cover to strengthen Chinese naval presence in this vital oceanic body. “The world has anxieties over the rise of China but the two countries that should watch out are India and Japan as China has the capacity to cast a shadow on them,” says Geir Lundestad of Norway’s Nobel Institute. For China, India’s joining hands with Vietnam for oil exploration in South China Sea, over which China claims total and absolute rights, has become a hard nut to crack.

However India’s endeavour to build Chabahar port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf in Iran close to Pakistan’s coastal stretch has entered a phase of stalemate presumably owing to international pressure in the wake of Iran’s vow to continue with its nuclear programme. “If India accelerates the work, the port of Chabahar will come up in record time because the Iranian side is fully equipped and willing to help India in completing the project,” says Mostafa Dolatyar of Teheran’s Institute for Political and International Studies, “For India, access to central Asian oil and gas is entirely dependent on its use of the Iranian ports and Chabahar will be a port dedicated to the Indian needs”.

On his part, Verma is clear in perception, “the Indian Navy’s current perspective level planning is driven by a conceptual shift from numbers of platforms—that is from the old bean counting philosophy to one that concentrates on capacity”.Giving details, Verma points out “In terms of force accretions in the immediate future, we are acquiring ships in accordance with Navy’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan. Our preferred choice of inducting ships and submarines has been through the indigenous route and of the 49 ships and submarines on order, 45 are from Indian shipyards.”

For with China enlarging its footprint all over the Indian Ocean region through what is being viewed as its aim of creating a “string of pearls” of listening posts around India, Indian navy cannot afford to remain idle. China has already constructed an ultra modern port in Hambantota in Sri Lanka in addition to a number of maritime projects in Myanmar. And to India’s discomfiture, China has also bagged a project to build a deep sea harbour at Sonadiya near Chittagong in Bangladesh. Of course, for geo-political and strategic reasons, China has not obliged Pakistan in so far building a naval base at Gwadar is concerned.

Against this backdrop Indian Navy’s strategy to transform itself into a satellite augmented, network centric three dimensional force, assumes significance. As it is, the Indian Navy has drawn up an ambitious plan to acquire a range of satellites for a variety of end uses in the years ahead. To begin with, it would get GSat-7, a multi band communications satellite built by the Indian Space Research organisation(ISRO). GSAT-7 will help the Indian Navy link up its long range missiles , radar and air defence networks to a central room through a dedicated satellite communications network. The most striking advantage of GSAT-7 is that it would provide secure, reliable and hassle free communications channel. GSAT-7 which will encase the rich and varied experience of ISRO in building INSAT series of communications spacecraft will help smoothen naval plan for a robust net centric war platform. This satellite with 600-100 nautical miles footprints over the Indian Ocean will enhance maritime domain awareness of the Navy over the Indian ocean region which India considers to be the primary area of responsibility in terms of maritime security.

Not even sky seems to be the limit for Indian navy’s ambitions to acquire space assets. Looking ahead, it is keen on acquiring dedicated satellites for applications such as navigation, ocean watch, reconnaissance and surveillance, electronics intelligence and weather prediction in addition to communications and data transfer . The ultimate objective of the Indian Navy is to create and sustain a three dimensional, technology enabled, satellite augmented network centric system to transform itself into a forward looking, formidable sea power. Indian Navy’s radical shift in its strategic outlook is clearly exemplified by the fact that it is aiming for a global reach from being a just regional sea power worried about the threats from China and Pakistan. That Navy is looking well beyond China and Pakistan to position itself as a maritime force capable of taking care of Indian interests across the high seas of the world augurs well for India’s long term strategic vision of attaining the status of a major military power.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Good Product To Sell

Kanwal Sibal
Member Advisory Board, VIF

The relationship between democracy and international security is frequently debated in international circles. It is also said that more prosperity at the international level is conducive for global security. How true are these propositions, in fact?

There is no accepted definition of democracy. The world’s most liberal countries call themselves democracies and so do the world’s most authoritarian regimes. Who then lays down authoritatively universally applicable norms of democracy?

Any country’s political system, in reality, cannot be divorced from its history, tradition and culture. That is why even Western democracies are not identical. Many non-Western countries believe their systems respond better to the needs of their societies. The issue is how to balance community interests and individualism. Who will decide on a definitive answer to this old debate?

There is a crusading spirit behind the Western advocacy of democracy. Its yardsticks for democracy are prescriptive. Whereas in the West democratic systems took long decades to evolve, non-Western countries are expected to move quickly towards the Western version of democracy. In their case, the process is sought to be accelerated through external political interference and pressure, and in some cases by military means.

The selective application by the West of the weapon of democracy by targeting political adversaries and sparing allies and friends makes the international debate on democracy and international security even more controversial.

The West’s hubris about its democratic vocation is such that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, history had ended for some with the definitive triumph of democracy. This has not happened. Early Russian experience of democracy has, on the contrary, been unsatisfactory. The coloured revolutions in former Soviet space held up great democratic promise, but that promise too has faded.
The “Arab Spring” hardly describes accurately the phenomenon of change that has affected this area. The ouster of dictators by the street was too quickly labelled as a grassroots democracy movement. The sceptics saw the Islamists stepping into the political breach created by social media activists. In Tunisia, the government with Islamist tendencies has come to power. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists have won a majority in parliament. The public in these countries has preferred to express its political aspirations not through secular parties but Islamic ones with no ideological roots in democracy, In Libya, the uprising against the dictator was tribal in nature with strong Islamic affiliations and not a movement for democracy. In Syria, too, the opposition to the Assad regime has less to do with democracy than a sectarian effort to create a situation that would invite foreign intervention on the Libyan pattern.

To some extent, the Egyptian example, whatever the complexion it has taken now, encourages the exercise of street power to overthrow entrenched dictators or regimes divorced from the aspirations of the people. Some nervousness about the fallout of the Arab Spring has been felt by the Chinese government. In Russia, too, street demonstrations against the fairness of the last parliamentary elections and later against Putin’s decision to stand again for election seemed to have been partially inspired by the Arab example. But the force of this example has been lost because its end result has been regressive in many ways. The limits of the so-called Arab Spring to threaten authoritarian regimes across the world are starkly exposed by the fact that it is the leading authoritarian Gulf states that are today the strongest backers of this phenomenon.

As regards international security, we use the term constantly as if its meaning is clear. It is not. No global security architecture exists as yet; nor does any mechanism to provide equal security to all nations. Some countries possess nuclear weapons or highly advanced conventional forces. The vast majority possesses neither. Whereas the regional powers have a smaller circle of security interests, the big powers see their security interests extending far beyond their immediate neighbourhood They conflate their national security interests with international security.

In this situation, who is responsible for international security? The United Nations Security Council? For the developing countries, the UNSC is not sufficiently representative as it no longer reflects the shifts in global power since 1945. Is it Nato with its out-of-area operations? Is it the defence alliances that exist in West Asia and the Asia Pacific? Did military action taken against Iraq or Libya, and potentially contemplated against Syria and Iran, have “international security” as a shared international objective? Was the intervention in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban for assuring such security? And if so, is the self-imposed deadline for withdrawal by 2014 by cutting a deal with the Taliban for “international security”?

Some would argue that the tendency to intervene in the internal affairs of countries, to not respect the sovereignty of States, to use human rights and democracy issues for allegedly geo-political reasons, to promote controversial doctrines such as the right to protect do not necessarily enhance international security, rather they create tensions and a sense of insecurity in many parts of the world. Power is even now so unequally distributed within the international system that the dominant West has the freedom to conceptualize and apply these new approaches to others.

The view that democracies do not fight with each other carries the implication that if democracy spreads across the globe the world will become peaceful. No doubt the trans-Atlantic space occupied by mature Western democracies is peaceful. But if the world’s foremost democracies do not fight each other they are quite prone to fight others. The Korean and Vietnam wars, the Falklands war, the Nato action against Yugoslavia, the wars against Iraq, the Nato action against Libya, the Afghanistan war — all involve Western democracies. Iran is being threatened with military action by them and Syria is in their cross-hairs, irrespective of the terrible human costs that follow all such interventions. The argument that such wars prevent dictators from committing even greater atrocities on their own populations may be defensible up to a point, but the geo-political calculations behind such regime change policies are evident. It would be naïve to believe that powerful countries are moved only by altruistic reasons.

The prosperity argument also does not bear scrutiny. The Cold War was not motivated by prosperity issues on either side. China’s claims to the South China sea, its aggressive posture on Taiwan, and its differences with India and Japan have nothing to do with difference in prosperity levels. Neither do India-Pakistan differences. Iran’s nuclear challenge does not stem from economic deprivation. The solution to Russia-West issues or Russia’s relations with its immediate neighbours do not lie in increased prosperity in these countries.

The West has a good product to sell in terms of its mature version of democracy. The problem is with its aggressive political salesmanship, to the point of relentlessly vaunting the qualities of its product and even thrusting it forcibly on others. The way India sees it, the case for democracy is strong and self-evident, but it has not been won as it is overlaid with geo-political calculations and aggressive political structuring at the international level without regard to human costs.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2014 : Political Scenarios

Dr. M.N. Buch
Visiting Fellow, VIF

George Orwell wrote a seminal work of fiction bearing the title 1984. Because it foretold a world controlled by a faceless dictatorship which had total electronic surveillance of every citizen, it caused horror and consternation. I suppose it is Stalin’s total dictatorship in the Soviet Union which inspired 1984.

Perhaps no one would be happier than I that the countervailing liberal forces prevented the world from going totally into the 1984 scenario. Of course there have been regimes which have come close to it, Myanmar being one of them. It is Orwell’s work which has inspired the title of the present essay.

The experience of this country ever since we moved from a government of a single party enjoying a majority to an era of coalitions has not been altogether happy. Atal Bihari Vajpayee led the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition in which the largest single party was the BJP, with approximately 185 seats in the Lok Sabha. The constituent members of the coalition quite often acted in an irresponsible manner and demanded from the Prime Minister concessions which no normal government could afford. There were a number of compromises, but Atalji had diplomatic skills whereby he was able to manage the coalition reasonably well. The stresses and tensions were visible, but the structure was held together by the personality of the Prime Minister. When that coalition was replaced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004 the largest single unit was the Congress and Dr. Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister, though with real political power resting with Sonia Gandhi, Congress President and Chairman of UPA and of the National Advisory Council (NAC). Power was split and this did not go unnoticed by the alliance partners. Fortunately for Dr. Manmohan Singh the Left had a substantial presence in Parliament and by and large it played a responsible, nationalist and public welfare oriented role which ensured that in all matters of public interest government had a solid bloc supporting it. The Left walked away from the coalition (it has always supported the coalition without being a member of it) over the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Agreement, but it still continued to play a responsible role in Parliament and this helped government.

The 2009 scenario was very different. BJP was reduced to 114 seats in the Lok Sabha and even with its ally, Shiv Sena, the figure did not exceed 125. Old allies such as the Biju Janata Dal and the Telugu Desham Party walked away from NDA, though the Janata Dal (United) and the Shiromani Akali Dal held true to NDA. The Congress’s strength rose to 207, which is a fairly comfortable figure in the matter of leading a coalition. However, the Left was dealt a severe blow in the election and, therefore, it was no longer a pillar to which the Congress could cling in a storm. The other motley collection of parties which allied with the Congress have small numbers only, with the largest groups being Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party with 21 seats each and the Trinamool Congress and the DMK with 19 and 18 seats respectively. By and large the Samajwadi Party remained busy with U.P. affairs, as did the Bahujan Samaj Party and did not interfere much with the working of the Central Government. However, parties such as the Trinamool Congress, the DMK and the NCP exerted pressures on government totally out of proportion with their strength in Parliament, resulting in a virtual paralysis in almost every major matter of policy. Whether it was the Teesta water accord with Bangladesh, petroleum prices, the railway budget, the handling of issues relating to telecommunications, the measures to counter terrorism, various Bills of the Human Resource Development Ministry for education reforms, food security or measures to stop corruption, in every case government’s proposals were thwarted by various splinter groups and government has had to compromise in every case. Cumulatively this has resulted in a major damage to the national psyche in the matter of economic reforms, prevention of corruption, dealing with Naxalism, policy relating to land acquisition, environmental protection and wild life protection, the implementation of development programmes and the adoption of the same educational policy. Externally it has projected a picture of a corrupt India in which government was unable to undertake economic reforms and this has led to a drop of confidence of foreign investors in India. The Indian rupee has dropped to an all-time low, industrial production is stagnating, employment generation is not taking place and there is a general feeling throughout the world that the Indian economy is in crisis which government does not have the will or ability to handle. Whereas two years ago the Indian rupee was strong, the economy was thriving and the world considered India a role model of economic management, today we are down in the dumps. A stagnant economy is facing a staggering inflation and things are beginning to look really bad for this country.

What does India need? Obviously first and foremost we need a government which has confidence in itself and has the strength in Parliament to be able to push through sane policies without the fear that the government will fall because of the unreasonable demands of small parties allied to it. Therefore, in the next elections it is very important that the two major parties, the BJP and the Congress, restructure themselves so that when they go before the electorate both have an even chance of either getting a majority or to at least secure 225 seats in the Lok Sabha. With that number of seats a coalition could probably be fairly easy to handle because the smaller partners would know that if they walk out the government will still survive because of the support of about fifty other Members of Parliament. In other words, we should try and ensure that in 2014 there is an absolute majority for a party, or that one of the two major parties wins at least 225 seats in Parliament.

Suppose the election results in the two major parties, the Congress and the BJP winning less than 150 seats each in the Lok Sabha. Both are equally balanced, neither has the numbers whereby it can not claim power, nor is there a certainty that in a so divided a mandate at least 125 members will come together to help one of the two major parties to form a coalition government. In Britain the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have a coalition, with neither party dominating and there is an agreed programme for governance which, by and large, has been followed. Therefore, despite being a coalition the British Government works. In India if the myriad coalition partners have almost the same number of seats as the lead partner in the coalition, the coalition will not function because each partner would demand its pound of flesh. The partners would be like a school of piranhas and would feed on the body of the largest single partner in the coalition. Whether it is the BJP or the Congress neither would be able to survive a coalition of this nature. Damn the parties, the question is, would India survive?

Another scenario is that the two major parties are evenly balanced but do not have that number of seats which would enable either to put together a viable coalition. Under these circumstances whom does the President invite to become Prime Minister if the leaders of both political parties say that they cannot put together a government? The President would still have to invite somebody because according to the Constitution the Centre does not have the power to declare President’s rule, which the President has vis-à-vis the States through Article 356. The person invited forms a government, which immediately falls because it does not enjoy the confidence of the House. Suppose this happens to the next man also who is invited to become Prime Minister? The President will have to appoint a caretaker Prime Minister and then arrange for immediate elections. Suppose the next elections throw up similar results? Do we go through the same exercise once again? Can we really afford to hold an election every six months? A caretaker can neither take a policy decision, nor initiate legislation, nor launch any development programmes, nor take decisions on issues of policy, nor undertake major diplomatic exercises. Can such a government, reminiscent of the Fourth Republic in France, offer leadership to this country or run a meaningful government?

In the national executive meeting of the BJP held in Mumbai recently Shri L.K. Advani made a statement and asked a question, the true depth of which has not been appreciated. He said that people are unhappy with UPA, but BJP should ask itself the question whether if UPA goes does it have the capacity to form and lead the government. What Advaniji was stating is that if BJP or any other party forms a government it must have the capacity to do so, a clear-cut agenda for tackling the problems of the country and a programme whereby political stability is restored. I consider Advaniji’s comment to be of supreme importance because the time has come for political parties to do introspection about where this country is going and what would happen to it because of fragmented politics.

A party based democracy demands the existence of strong political parties. Ideally India needs a middle of the road party, which is a role that Congress should play. This party would have elements of the socialists also. Then there should be a Left leaning party, but which excludes and in fact suppresses the extreme Left, which includes Naxalism. There should also be a right of centre party in which BJP should shed its communal baggage and win recognition as a secular party. This right leaning party would exclude and suppress all forms of Right extreme. The three parties mentioned above would have a narrow margin within which to swing left or right and there would also be continuity in government. That is the need of the hour. In order to ensure this we would have to bring about a massive strengthening of the Congress – Socialist group, the Left Front and the BJP. How is this to happen? Our experience of coalitions has been that smaller regional parties with narrow interests and independents with selfish interests are the two main obstacles to the coalescing of parties. Therefore, we need to bring about the following reforms:-

  1. No independent should be qualified to fight an election to a State Legislature unless he has successfully contested a local government election, panchayat or municipality. An independent should be precluded from contesting a parliamentary election unless he has won at least one local government and one State Legislature election. This would eliminate all the self-seeking independents and to that extent the parties would be strengthened.
  1. No political party should be allowed to stand for a parliamentary election unless it has at least five seats each in the State Legislatures of at least three States. This would force the regional parties to develop a wider perspective beyond their own State and thus break away from the narrow tunnel vision imposed by their own immediate region. Conversely the smaller parties could merge into the larger ones, thus strengthening the nationwide party system. In either case they would no longer be able to call the shots in Parliament and thus give a fair chance to the ruling party or coalition to go about the business of the government.

It is about time our political parties did deep introspection on where this country is going because of their own selfish interest and political shenanigans. Otherwise 2014 stares us in the face as the annus horribilis in which the political system collapses in India.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Policy Paralysis, Petrifaction or Mere Incompetence: The State of the Government

Dr. M.N. Buch

Visiting Fellow, VIF

Ultimately a government functions at two levels, policy and administration. The two are extremely sensitive to each other because if there is uncertainly in policy making administration can never be either firm or competent. A good administration requires a political system which functions according to ideology and programmes and is not totally overpowered by populism and immediate expediency. After all, the administration also requires the existence of a policy. First and foremost the civil servants who are required to administer must not only have a policy frame to follow – they should be confident that if they implement policy they will be supported. In the absence of clear-cut policy civil servants dither and if the situation worsens, they go into a coma of inaction. In India we have built up a culture of civil servants never taking decisions but passing the file from desk to desk till the matter dies a natural death. I remember a former Defence Secretary who took pride in the fact that during his tenure there was not a single scandal because he did not allow the armed forces to purchase even a rifle bullet. Meanwhile the Army has been reduced to a state where the current Chief of Army Staff has assessed that the Army is incapable of fighting a sustained war. This is a complete negation of government. Taking the defence example, it has taken more than twenty years to select fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force and even now there is no guarantee that some obscure allegation of wrongdoing will not torpedo the whole effort. The Indian Army is deprived of artillery pieces because every time a gun is to be purchased someone alleges corruption. Can we not work out a system by which once the armed forces, through a rigorous exercise, are able to convince government about the need for a particular weapon system, sanction is issued, the budget released and the process of procurement completed with reasonable speed? The parameters of purchase must be clearly defined by government and the process, considering the security requirements, should be as open as possible. The committee in charge of purchase should have complete powers to take a decision, provided that the reason for decision is recorded in extenso and the justifications are clearly given. Unless there is genuine reason to believe that there is widespread corruption or action contrary to the national interest, government must not allow interference with the process of procurement. The price of delaying the process can be defeat in a war which would be disastrous for the country.

Less than two years ago, when the world was still staggering under the load of severe economic recession, India was being cited as a fine example of continuous economic growth in a totally democratic environment, lauded for its management of the economy and its banking system, with a corporate sector which was optimistic about India and its future.

Suddenly towards the latter half of 2010 the economy started falling apart with scandal after scandal emerging in the matter of the Commonwealth Games, allocation of 2G Spectrum, illegal mining in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, falling production and a corporate sector in near panic. From the confident and strong rupee of just one year ago it has now slipped down to nearly Rs.56 against the dollar. Suddenly the budget deficit has grown because of huge outlay on the very schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which were the flagships of UPA-II. Government heeded none of the warnings that conservative economists and experienced administrators were sounding. These people were brushed aside as Cassandras or, worse still, being positively anti-national and anti-UPA.

It is a fact of which we must take notice that India is governed by a coalition in which the lead party, the Congress, has to do a balancing act in order to keep together its heterogeneous flock of supporters. In the UPA-I version the Congress had to largely contend with the Left, which behaved in a fairly responsible manner even after it quit the coalition over the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Agreement. In its second birth UPA found that the Left was virtually wiped out in Parliament, that DMK and Trinamool Congress had a fairly commanding role and Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati also had to be kept sweetened. Atal Bihari Vajpayee also handled a heterogeneous coalition but he had diplomatic skills which the leaders of the present government seem to lack. Therefore, despite some strange compromises, the Vajpayee government never totally lost control of the situation. That does not seem to be the case with the present government, despite the fact that people like Lalu Prasad Yadav have been marginalized in the elections. This has led to some totally unacceptable situations and compromises which have seriously affected the credibility of government, severely hampered its ability to take decisions and created an environment in which there is seeming paralysis of government.

The functioning of the government is being affected by several factors. The first is that there is a National Advisory Council headed by a person recognised as the head of the United Progressive Alliance, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, who also happens to be the Congress President. In many matters NAC functions as a parallel government or at least the supreme policy making body. This is reminiscent of the Soviet Union where Stalin, the Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was the de facto ruler and the President and Prime Minister were figureheads who took and obeyed orders. There is uncertainty in UPA whether decision making even in trivial postings and transfers vests in Sonia Gandhi or whether the Prime Minister has the final say. Obviously Sonia Gandhi is larger than life because in matters such as the Right to Education, Food Security, NREGS etc., it is NAC which calls the shots. Even in the matter of appoint of the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, it is likely that Pulok Chatterjee, who has been with Sonia Gandhi ever since he was a young Deputy Secretary to Government, is her choice and that the Prime Minister has not even had the freedom to appoint his own personal staff. If that be true real power in government lies outside the Prime Minister’s office and the Council of Ministers and this is a very dangerous thing in a parliamentary democracy. Such an arrangement can only lead to ad hocism and, ultimately, paralysis.
An essay of this nature has naturally to be divided into different sections or sectors because government can be homogenous but it is not monolithic. Let us begin with the politics of coalition. The magic figure for a majority in Parliament is 272, which is one more than the half way mark. If a party has approximately 182 to 200 seats it would have to collect anything between 75 and 100 additional supporters. This would be relatively easy because the smaller parties tend to go along with that party which has the largest number of seats and which number is viable. In the 15th Lok Sabha, that is, the current House, the Congress has 206 seats, about double the number that the next largest party, BJP, has. It is true that unlike the UPA where the largest single chunk of support for the Congress came from the Left Front, in the present House the support to the Congress is very heterogeneous, with DMK, Trinamool Congress and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s miniscule Janata Lok Dal being the main supporters. The Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav has selectively supported UPA, as also has Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. In the Rajya Sabha, however, the situation is different because there BJP has a substantial presence and the UPA does not command a majority. That is one reason why the Lokpal Bill has been deadlocked conveniently because perhaps the Congress never wanted it to be enacted. It is not understood why the provisions of Article 108 of the Constitution have not been invoked and a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament has not been arranged so that, if possible, the Bill can be passed despite opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Perhaps this is indicative of the lack of will of the ruling coalition to pass the Bill, an allegation which the supporters of Anna Hazare have been making from time to time.

To return to the issue of the coalition, the whole of 2010 and much of 2011, not to mention the first half of 2012, have passed with so many compromises being made that one could be excused for feeling that government has been stuck by paralysis of decision making. A few examples will suffice to illustrate the point. In the allocation of 2 G Spectrum for mobile telephony government (it is irrelevant whether it was NDA or UPA because government is a continuing body) decided that in order to encourage mobile telephony the largest number of players possible would be invited to invest in the sector. Here entry was by invitation and the fees were fixed. At that stage the telephone industry in India was in its infancy and mobile telephony was virtually unknown. As the field was thrown open investors flooded in and soon India became the fast growing mobile telephony country in the world. This naturally attracted more players and high value began to be attached to spectrum allocation, for which formerly there were no takers. This is the stage at which government should have taken a fresh look at its policy and switch from allocation by invitation on a fixed rate to a system of auction or tenders. Unfortunately DMK had claimed the very fertile communication sector as its fiefdom and one DMK Minister succeeded another as the minister in charge. It is in this scenario that A. Raja became the minister.

The procedure in government is that in any matter of policy, or in which there are financial implication, or interdepartmental coordination the Rules of Business of the Executive Government make it mandatory for the matter to be brought before the Council of Ministers for its decision. In the case of telecommunications A. Raja avoided going to the cabinet and on his own, by suitably twisting the policy around, allotted spectrum at will and on fixed rates. This has caused enormous loss to government, estimated by the Comptroller and Auditor General as being as high as Rs. 1, 76,000 crores. Even if we accept this as speculative and grossly exaggerated, the fact is that A. Raja caused substantial loss of revenue to government by his arbitrary decisions. The Secretary of the Ministry, who is responsible for the proper implementation of the Rules of Business, failed in his duty by refusing to issue orders without a Council decision. The Prime Minister was aware of what was going on but turned a blind eye. When the whole affair blew up in his face the excuse touted out was of helplessness in the face of compulsions of the coalition. A coalition which permits wholesale corruption and pleads the compulsions of coalition as an excuse is no coalition – it is only a collective of dishonest gangsters out to loot the people. A Prime Minister who, or a party which, pleads helplessness under these circumstances can only be accused of paralysis.

A second example is that of a railway budget 2012-13. Here, too, the Trinamool Congress and its Feuhrerin, Mamata Banerjee, claimed the railways as their jagir and the Prime Minister, who alone is empowered to decide portfolios of ministers, acquiesced. The minister, Dinesh Trivedi, presented the 2012-13 railway budget to Parliament, presumably after it had been cleared by the Council of Ministers. A furious Mamata Banerjee immediately asked for his head and condemned the budget as unacceptable. The Prime Minister readily succumbed, Dinesh Trivedi has to go and his successor, Mukul Roy, rejected his ministry’s own budget and presented a new budget to Parliament. Where was the collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers which is mandated by Article 75 (3) of the Constitution? Only a paralysed party and government can permit this to happen.

Let us move from politics to the politico-economic arena. Ever since UPA-II came to power there has been public outcry against increasing inflation and a slow down of the economy. There are many reasons for inflation and one is that money is pumped into the market without there being commensurate increase in production and availability of goods. India embarked on an ambitious scheme of guaranteed rural employment, for which purpose the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was passed by Parliament and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was placed under it. The Act and the scheme have both emanated from the National Advisory Council. This is a demand based programme in which if there is a demand for employment in rural areas government, by law, is required to provide one hundred days per year employment per family. It has degenerated into a job creation programme in which creation of assets is secondary and giving of wage for employment becomes primary. When we compare this with previous programmes like the Watershed Management Programme we find that those programmes had the creation of specific assets as the objective and, because they are rural assets, village employment was automatically created. Because the asset was permanent the villagers had a commitment to its creation and, therefore, the Watershed Management Programme has by and large been a success, especially in drought prone areas. The present programme only aims at putting one hundred days wages into the pocket of a villager without necessarily creating assets. It is a muster based programme and I can state with great confidence that no muster based programme can be run honestly in India. There is a great deal of corruption in the programme and more money is going into the pockets of individuals, who are not necessarily village beneficiaries. Had the programme been aimed at 100 percent asset creation its long-term effect would not be inflationary, but because the present programme is putting a little additional money into the pockets of those who need it and a great deal of money in a few pockets which would be dipped into for conspicuous consumption, there is an inbuilt inflationary pressure.

Another reason for inflation is programmes of giving subsidies where none are called for. In Madhya Pradesh government is buying, on guarantee of 100 percent purchase, wheat from farmers at a rate which is at least Rs. 350 per quintal more than the prevailing market rate. Is this subsidy really needed? Almost every State gives subsidised electricity to villagers, whose demand is for guaranteed supply rather than for a subsidy. Gujarat is one of the few States, perhaps the only one, where rural power supply is guaranteed, for which the villagers have to pay. The Electricity Board is flush with funds because people pay, the system is properly maintained and enlarged so that the quality of power is constant and both villagers and government have benefited. Where subsidies are really needed is for the totally indigent, the under-nourished children and the social unfortunates facing starvation. To that extent the schemes of cheap grain introduced by Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are examples of properly applied subsidies. Free power is an example of a subsidy being wasted. Government is either totally incompetent, is paralysed or is petrified because of misplaced populism to be able to take an objective view of the subsidy regime. By an objective view I do not mean the myopic vision of the World Bank trained economists like Montek Singh Ahluwalia and the neo-liberals, who have no clue about how the poor in this country live. Nor does this include the jhola brigade which seems to dominate in NAC. I refer here to a holistic view being taken by people who understand India, are in sympathy with the average citizen, but who also understand the economics of subsidy versus full payment for a beneficial service, who understand budgeting and who are prepared to look at priorities.

Neo-liberals say that all State intervention is bad and the private sector should be given a free rein. They point to Air India as a horrible example of public sector mismanagement. What about Kingfisher Airlines, the erstwhile Sahara Airlines and Jet Airways? Are they better managed than the public sector? A paralysed government failed to regulate the private sector or give that kind of autonomy to the public sector which would permit it to compete in the market. What we need is a set of priorities about the sectors in which government will directly intervene and those in which its intervention will be regulatory. A competent government would set up an economic regime in which the market operates in a rational manner, it would not be allowed to disrupt the economy because of its own selfish interests but would otherwise be facilitated to grow and prosper. A purposive government would shed public sector flab and prepare the ground rules for how the public sector will function. A purposive government would have policies which encourage growth without necessarily reducing India to a kind of off-shore manufacturing facility for western industries, which has happened in parts of China, Taiwan and South Korea. A purposive government would encourage the growth of the secondary sector and facilitate the primary sector of agriculture to increase production, improve connectivity to market, encourage industry which would add value to agricultural products and generally connect the producer with the consumer through an active market. Are any of these happening? The answer is an emphatic NO.
Our civil servants have to be given respect as the first step towards building their morale. Under Articles 53 and 154 the executive power of the Union or a State will vest in the President and Governor respectively, but will be exercised through officers subordinate to him. The word used is ‘officers’, not ‘babus’. The constant derogatory reference to civil servants as babus has sapped their morale and this has been detrimental to their ability to take decisions. Officers have certain powers under law and the Rules of Business. It must be ingrained in them that they will obey the law and in this they will not deterred by pressure, official, political or popular. If we are able to restore a situation in which officers work according to rules and according to the law and resist undue pressure, the administration will fall in line and work will begin to run smoothly.

In order that officers function well they have to be competent and it is the purpose of training to improve the competence level of officers. A competent officer working according to rules, unswayed by pressure will also be decisive and this in itself will cure the paralysis of government. Such officers have to be protected because a competent officer who functions according to rules is bound to be honest because the rules do not permit dishonesty. Unfortunately it is these very officers who become the first target of scoundrels who are trying to derail government and, therefore, government must make it clear that these officers will find the protection of a proactive government which is keen to do its duty to the people.

To conclude, the Constitution and the law both aim at giving India a positive government. Populism, which is the biggest enemy of good government, has unfortunately made government incompetent, this incompetence has advanced and there are signs that paralysis is leading to petrifaction. A petrified government cannot give to the people what has been mandated in the Preamble to the Constitution: Justice, social, economical and political: Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship: Equality of status and of opportunity and Fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.

Why Dilute the Vision of the University at Nalanda?

Anirban Ganguly
Senior Research Associate, VIF

In a remarkable speech delivered at Nalanda on November 20, 1951 at the inauguration of the Magadh Research Institute for the study of Pali, Prakrit and research in Buddhist literature and philosophy, Dr. Rajendra Prasad the first President of the Indian Republic dwelt at length on the importance of the ‘aim of reviving the ancient glory of Nalanda in the world of knowledge.’

Prasad referred to Nalanda as the symbol of the most glorious period of Indian history not only because of the quest for knowledge blossoming there ‘into its finest shape but also because it bound together, at that time, the various different parts of Asia with links of knowledge.’ Lyrically describing the symbolism of the ancient Nalanda University the President observed that its ‘message was heard across the mountains and oceans of the Asian mainland and, for nearly six centuries, it continued to be the centre of Asian Consciousness.’ This perhaps unique epithet for that ancient seat of learning – centre of Asian Consciousness – appears to have been overlooked by the Nalanda University project’s mentors today in their hurried quest to forge international linkages and achieve an international profile for the upcoming university. But perhaps it was Prasad’s concluding remarks that have proved to be most portentous for the entire Nalanda project today and for those entrusted with the shaping of its core vision. Commending the aim and effort of reviving this ancient seat of learning, the first citizen had noted then:
We should aim at reviving the educational system of a bygone age and re-establish Nalanda as a centre of art, literature, philosophy, religion and science. Cultural renaissance can come about in the life of a nation only when a large number of determined scholars devote a life time to a search after truth…”
It is this lack of a group of ‘determined scholars’ resolute on devoting a ‘life time to a search after truth’ and to giving shape to a Nalanda University in our time that appears to be at the root of the failure to elicit positive interest in the entire project and to turn it into a national endeavour with international appeal and ramifications. Interestingly, noting just such an absence of dedication amongst those professing to shoulder the onerous task of this historic revival, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs (2011-2012) in its fourteenth report tabled in May 2012 desired that:
The responsibility to develop this institution [Nalanda University] should be given to those who are devoted, genuine and committed to make selfless efforts for the development of this prime institution while sitting at the location of the institution and certainly not in Delhi… (Recommendation No.25)
Asking for reviewing the proposal by the University Governing Board – taken in the fourth meeting of the Nalanda Mentor Group in August, 2008 at New Delhi – of setting up the School of International Relations of the Nalanda University in Delhi, the Committee, presenting an alternate vision framework for the School, recommended instead:
The school of International Studies under the Nalanda University should be set up at the main University Campus and having capacity to carve out a unique identity for itself and focus upon the issues of cultural diplomacy and cultural engagement so as to imbibe, build upon and advocate the diplomatic and cultural traditions of the region and should endeavour to be a unique and one of its kind which is highly specialized in subjects that are not replicated or stereotyped by other academic institutions or organisation. (Recommendation 25)
The point emphasised by the Committee has been that the proposed School of International Relations must not evolve into just another international studies centres but must, more uniquely, focus on re-examining, reinventing and re-forging, under present international conditions, India’s agelong external cultural linkages with the wider world, especially the Southeast Asian and Central Asian region. In other words, the Committee wished to see the School develop itself into a specialized centre for strategizing India’s cultural diplomacy in a world that is increasingly witness to regional and global actors deftly combining hard and soft power in order to further their respective international goals. Moreover, there already functions well established schools of international relations all over the country – Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jadavpur University, Pondicherry Central University – which have made their mark in the subject domain. Delhi itself houses one of those well-established schools of international studies at JNU and has again come up now with a post graduate course in international relations at the South Asian University (SAU) in the same city. It is not clear, therefore, as to what purpose it would really serve – except academic duplication – to also have a Nalanda University international studies school in Delhi on similar academic and pedagogical patterns. Why not try and re-create, even if against challenging odds, an international profile for the entire region around the University in Nalanda itself and give those students of the area, who are forced to migrate out of the region, an opportunity to interact with the wider world and develop life skills in their own backyard. The state government from its past records of cooperation in the project will certainly not be wanting in extending support to make such an attempt succeed. Such an approach shall well fit in with its own proactive efforts of turning Bihar and the region around it into a favoured international educational and business destination. There has to be a genuine effort at convincing the people of the state of the huge potential and utility of a project of such magnitude. And for it to be seen as truly beneficial for the state a greater involvement of experts, academics and administrators from within the state itself is absolutely imperative.

It has been argued that since the corps diplomatique and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the nodal ministry for the University, function from Delhi it would make ‘sense for Nalanda University to draw upon both these groups for the school’ and thus have the school located there. Such an approach, as it always does, displays a mindset that is incapable of looking beyond the national capital when creating institutions of national importance and planning their long-term sustenance. Such a position almost always ignores the pool of local talent, regional possibilities and refuses to take these into account while discouraging altogether any scope for their growth. The approach instead must be to encourage all stake-holders of the project to regularly travel to the location and initiate interactions on the ground. In its heyday ancient Nalanda attracted a large number of scholars who undertook the perilous journey to the knowledge-centre in search of Indian wisdom and insisted on direct interactions. Video and teleconferencing facilities can hardly be effective substitutes for personal interactions while creating institutions. Surely the near un-motorable route – as per the Governing Board – can be developed into a major state highway with the Central Government and the Planning Commission making special allocations in this matter for the project. Interestingly, the Buddhist monk I-tsing (I Ching, Yijing) who had visited Nalanda and had studied there for a considerable time collecting ‘400 Sanskrit texts’ reports that ‘in the forty years between Hsuan-tsang’s [Xuanzang] departure and his arrival in India fifty-six scholars from China, Japan and Korea had visited India’, keeping in mind the near insurmountable obstacles to intercontinental journeys in that age, such a high inflow of scholars into Indian from the region around demonstrates the vibrancy of her ancient knowledge seats. Why reverse this trend in present times of enhanced connectivity and heightened communication? Why not focus on remaking Nalanda an international educational hub once more. This propensity of situating the University’s various schools of studies at different locations in the country will only serve to diffuse the entire physical formation of the project before the core itself has taken shape and deprive it of a palpable academic presence. A network of centres and institutional affiliates must instead now concentrate on developing the core of the University and make it academically viable; too much planning beyond the current region of focus will only serve to dilute the entire vision of the University. The Sections 3c and 4 (5) of the Nalanda University Act which allows the University to have centres at different places can be promulgated at a much later stage when the University has gained a certain standing and repute. The recently constituted (April 2012) Committee by the Planning Commission to suggests amendment in the Nalanda University Act 2010 may well deliberate on these sections in this light.

The other major aspect on concern is international involvement and support. International funding commitments till date have not been very encouraging, as per the MEA’s submission before the Committee, of the pledged contributions to the tune of USD 10 million made by foreign governments and institutions, the ‘actual contribution materialised so far is USD 1.1.million’ creating a ‘huge shortfall’ which will have to be met and borne by the Government of India. Apart from China the only other country to come up with financial support is Thailand which officially made a donation of a 100,000 USD and a Thai private company supplementing it with another contribution of 5,000 USD early this year. No other major international support has as yet been forthcoming. No international treaty signed nor any official international monitoring committee formed for the university which is being termed international. Singapore, for example, whose Foreign Minister had then played a key role in conceiving the project and who continues as a member of the Governing Board, is yet to come forward with any major contributions for the project.

This only reflects a lack of dynamism on the part of the originators of the project in trying to actively convince and enlist other partners. Instead of arguing over whether Yijing learnt his Sanskrit in Sriwijaya (Sumatra, Indonesia) or in India, as some eminent members of the Governing Board have been recently doing, it would do well if they got into the act of eliciting greater international support for the project and not simply look to China to periodically salvage the effort with its qualified munificence. Diversification of international stakeholders in the project is one of the cardinal demands at this stage, historically Nalanda had several benefactors, across the seas among them was the king of Suvarnadvipa, (Sumatra), named Bālaputradēva whose numerous endowments to Nalanda included one for the copying of scriptures (Dharmaratna) in its imposing library unit. The Nalanda Copper Plates of Dēvapāladēva ‘records the gift of five villages to a vihāra founded at Nalanda’ by Bālaputradēva, whom it calls the king of Sumatra (Suvarnadvipādhīpa mahārāja).

In his ‘History of Śrī Vijaya’ K.A.Nilakanta Sastri refers to Bālaputradēva’s contribution to Nalanda and observes that the king’s munificence demonstrated the existence of a robust link between the kingdom and Nalanda. A devout Buddhist, Bālaputradēva was attracted to the Nalanda University and built a ‘lofty vihāra to serve as the abode of the Bhiksu Sangha’ and with the consent of the king in whose territory Nalanda lay, he further endowed the ‘new foundation with the income of five villages, to be used towards the worship offered in the temples of Buddha …towards the needs of the Bhiksus in their health and in sickness…and for repair to the buildings.’ Sastri argues that the foundation of the monastery and its endowment are not isolated acts ‘but tangible proof that the numbers of pilgrims, scholars, and the monks going to Nalanda from Śrīvijaya had become so numerous as to justify special provision being made for their material and spiritual needs being met at the great centre.’ This historic fact of Nalanda having numerous benefactors must equally translate itself in the present times in order to confer a civilisational dimension to the whole effort.

Although in another context, it would still be useful, for example, to point to the efforts made by Jawaharlal Nehru in forging such international linkages while forming an international advisory board for the Bodh Gaya Temple Committee in 1955. In a letter (25th May 1955) to the then Chief Minister of Bihar Sri Krishna Sinha (Sri Babu) Nehru dwelt on the necessity of including foreign representatives from Buddhist countries in the board in order to give these countries a sense of partnership. He called for the inclusion of representatives from principal Buddhist countries such as Burma, Tibet, Laos, Ceylon, Thailand, Japan, Nepal and Cambodia. Interestingly Nehru left out China saying that he did not mind ‘if China (apart from Tibet) was also invited’ to send a representative, but that he would ‘not suggest this to begin with.’

Contrast this with the proponents of the modern day Nalanda who have omitted the Tibetans altogether from the project and who have been instead looking to China for every new direction and idea. Nehru appeared to be quite clear on the issue of forging international partnerships for projects such as these, ‘We must remember’ he continued in his letter to the Bihar Premier, ‘that this advisory body will have larger significance than merely one for the Bodh Gaya temple. It will really bring India into the international picture from another point of view.’ Referring to India’s cultural and civilisational space Nehru displayed an understanding of the need for India to re-explore and recreate this space in her neighbouring region. The Nalanda University project, thus, cannot evolve into a truly multinational effort if it overlooks this vibrant dimension of India’s civilisational space and confines its international activism and outreach to a single imposing regional power by ignoring other potential participants who are eager to be part of the effort. The latest has it that an all-Chinese group of 14 architects have drawn up a master plan for the Nalanda Campus – ‘The Nalanda University: a Mother Plan for the 21st Century Campus’ – at the Nalanda Sriwijaya-Centre at Singapore and plans to promote it for the final competition for the Nalanda campus master plan. One only hopes that there are groups of Indian architects as well who are being encouraged to draw up plans for the Nalanda campus in tune with its ancient design and ambience and that their proposals, when drawn up, will receive the same attention and consideration.

In connection with this issue of its architectural design, it may be relevant to mention that ancient Nalanda had an imposing library superstructure consisting of three buildings, called ‘Ratnasāgara, Ratnagañjaka and Ratnodadhi with the last reportedly being nine-storied.’ Today’s vision of the University must equally seek to recreate that ancient library structure and not be simply satisfied with a USD 1 million donation from China made with the rider that the fund be ‘used for building a Chinese-style library in the future university.’ What is needed is not the physical replica of a foreign university but rather a modern university with a physical structure that shall symbolise and express the Indian civilisational ethos of that age.

The Standing Committee was also not in favour of having the Nalanda office function from Delhi. One of the reasons given for having the office in Delhi was that it would act as the ‘public face of the University, especially for the international community, and for diplomatic missions of other countries.’ The other point made was that the infrastructure in the area was in a bad shape with the ‘office space provided at Rajgir in a very bad condition and in a major state of disrepair’ with no sewage connection or water supply, ‘inadequate and erratic telecommunication facilities’, and narrow and congested roads. It is however rather anomalous that while the University and its Governing Board accept that they are ‘in touch with the Bihar Government on all aspects of infrastructure development, and are receiving full co-operation from them’ they continue to insist – citing lack of infrastructural support – on shifting the University office to the national capital. Has the communication then between the University and the State Government actually broken down or touched an all time low? Is anyone trying to seriously redress this slide?

The question remains as to what prevents the ‘public face’ of the University – whatever that may mean in academic terms – from functioning from Nalanda itself; Bihar with its Bodh Gaya has achieved an international profile and the revival of the Nalanda university can in fact be the first step in drawing up a concerted plan to develop through Bihar first, and then the rest of the country, a Buddhist pilgrimage circuit with a great potential to attract international attention. This insistence on having the office at the national capital appears to be in line with a concerted effort to de-link the present University from its ancient spirit and past. The Governing Board members have been seen to be consistently adopting such a stance. Take the case of the ancient Nalanda Seal; in their earlier avatars as part of the Mentor Group these very members had unanimously adopted to ‘use the “Nalanda Seal” in the emblem of the Nalanda University and also as the principal symbol in [its] website.’ The Seal, an internationally recognised emblem of ancient Nalanda, was then widely advertised in the publicity brochure of the University, but strangely, once the University Act was passed the ancient Seal was silently discarded in favour of a surrealist rebus that completely fails to symbolise a civilisational link with the past institution and is incapable of effectively expressing the ‘Asian Consciousness.’

It is no one’s case that only metaphysical subjects be taught and contemplated upon in the modern University – in fact, even in the past ‘the goal of at least some of the students’ at ancient Nalanda ‘was not monastic life or missionary activity, but employment by the state’ – but in order to have, at least a semblance of the old spirit that imbued Nalanda, it is essential to preserve and reactivate some of those dominant physical symbols and intellectual lines that formed an integral part of the ancient seat.

While not entering into the other aspects of the Committee’s report and observations on the entire effort – e.g. the delay in launching the Global Design Competition – it would suffice to note that the Committee was dismayed to observe ‘the lack of progress regarding the Nalanda University Project.’ The Committee also noted that ‘the proposed outlay for the year 2012-13 was Rs.598.50 crores while the actual allocation’ made under the Plan Head was Rs.15 crores. The Committee ‘desired to know the reasons for seeking such a huge allocation for annual plan 2012-13 at this juncture’ and called for reviewing the entire Detailed Project Report (DPR) ‘in accordance with the ground realities.’

An inability to effectively translate the vision of the university on the ground has plagued the entire effort since its inception; the Standing Committee’s views have only further buttressed that perception. But it is the Committee’s concluding remarks on the Nalanda University project that point towards a deeper confusion in the entire effort and to a directionless approach in evolving its actual vision and in envisaging its future role. Expressing its deep concern ‘about the contents of the curriculum and the standards and quality of the academic course to be introduced’ in the University, the Committee focused on a more fundamental issue that perhaps calls for a wider national debate and introspection regarding the project itself:
The Committee feel that the course-content, academic-structure as well as faculty for the Nalanda University should be in consonance with the unique identity and academic character of the University that it is envisaged to be and should be able to live up to the founding philosophy and ideas behind the establishment of this University. The Committee feel that the University should emerge as a valuable resource for promotion of studies and research in oriental cultures, literary tradition and languages and civilisation based on the native knowledge systems and it should act as a living repository of cultural and literary traditions of the region. This University should strengthen and build upon the cultural capital and carry forward the thread of identity and consciousness within the South-East Asian Countries. The Ministry should endeavour to attain the aim of achieving highest intellectual and academic standards of international quality through this University… (Recommendation No.26)
It is issues such as these – the founding philosophy, the emergence of the University as a cultural and civilisational repository of the region, its capacity to be able to carry forward the thread of cultural identity and consciousness – that need to be reflected and deliberated upon. In absence of a wide-ranging debate the project shall become subservient to the idiosyncrasies of a few minds and eventually forfeit its pan-national potential.

What did the ancient University at Nalanda really symbolise, what did its emergence really signify for the concept and vision of education, it appears that ‘with the evolution of Nalanda, Indian higher education entered a new phase, transcending sectarian and denominational lines and moving into the direction of a true university.’ The fundamental goal of education evolved then, aimed at transforming the pupil into a truly learned and educated man – ‘vidyā-purusa’.

This essential goal of creating beings of wisdom - ‘vidyā-purusa’ – may well turn the Nalanda University into a decisive educational and civilisational experiment of our time. A project divorced from such a deeper driving vision risks degenerating into another stereotype institution tied to a mind-numbing routine and liable to external manipulations.